Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is to meet with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley at 11.30 a.m. tomorrow at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s for last-minute discussions on the Opposition’s choice for President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
The meeting comes even as the Prime Minister has promised to name her secret candidate for President tomorrow, one day before Tuesday’s deadline for nominations.
Unclear about what time she will make her announcement, Rowley said yesterday he was going into the meeting with an “open mind and was not going to prejudge the discussions”.
He said he was prepared to meet with the Prime Minister as early as yesterday or even today on the matter.
His team will comprise the PNM’s Chief Whip Marlene McDonald, party public relations officer Senator Faris Al Rawi, and MP for Diego Martin North East Colm Imbert.
This meeting comes two days after the People’s National Movement (PNM) submitted to the government, the name of Justice Rolston Nelson of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its choice for consideration for the post of the country’s fifth President, to be elected by an Electoral College which will be convened by the Parliament on February 15.
The PNM has made it clear that Justice Nelson was not a “nominee” but someone they would support for the presidency.
Yesterday the Opposition waited for confirmation of the meeting with Persad-Bissessar, and after several telephone calls going back and forth, from as early as 11.15 a.m. the Prime Minister’s personal advisor Barry Padarath informed McDonald shortly after 5 p.m. about the time.
McDonald, who had been corresponding with the Prime Minister on the issue told the Sunday Express that she received an e-mail from the PM shortly before midnight on Friday night but only became aware of it the following morning.
“It was sent at 11.42 p.m. and I only became aware when someone alerted me such an e-mail was sent,” she said.
The e-mail comprised an acknowledgement of the letter sent by McDonald with the PNM’s recommendation, earlier Friday and an attached copy of a letter to Rowley inviting him to a meeting to discuss the Opposition’s recommendation.
The letter to Rowley dated February 1, 2013, thanked him for his recommendation of Justice Nelson and in it, the Prime Minister said she “wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed…that we must involve ourselves in consensus building to choose the most appropriate nominee for the post of President of our country”.
In a statement from her office yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said she wished to “reiterate my earlier statement that this choice is one that would bind us as a nation for the next five years”.
She added, “Given the importance of this decision, and our mutual agreement on the need for consensus building, I wish to suggest we meet at the earliest convenience to discuss your recommendation for President.”
She advised that Padarath be contacted “to arrange a time for us to meet”.
Prior to Padarath’s involvement, the Opposition had earlier been in discussions with Leader of Government Business in the House, Dr Roodal Moonilal on the issue of the President.
Moonilal and McDonald met at her office at Piccadilly Street, Port of Spain last Wednesday to discuss their respective nominees.
McDonald said yesterday she had already initiated contact with Padarath and had called him several times as she sought to finalise arrangements for tomorrow’s meeting.
She said she was therefore surprised when Moonilal called her at approximately 3.26 p.m. enquiring about her discussions with the PM.
“I told him that the Prime Minister instructed that Padarath be the one to make the arrangements for the meeting.”
Two former High Court judges whose names have surfaced as possible contenders for the post — Sat Sharma, a former chief justice and Zainool Hosein—said they have not been approached by Government for the position.
There’s also speculation that former judge Amrika Tiwary-Reddy is being considered, but the Sunday Express was unable to contact her yesterday.
Other names described as contenders on the Government side are House Speaker Wade Mark, political analyst Dr Hamid Ghany, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas.
Former judge Mustapha Ibrahim, whose name has also been bandied about as a contender, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
Yesterday Rowley reiterated the Opposition’s position that there should be consensus and agreement from both the Government and the Opposition on the election of the next President, when the term of office of President George Maxwell Richards ends.